Where we begin in the whole sacred process of evangelization is very important!
Pope Francis has radiantly reminded us of this, hasn’t he? It’s not helpful to start with what the Church is against; it’s not productive to begin with what’s right or wrong. We’ll get to that eventually. No, we start with the Person, the invitation, the message of Jesus! Then, everything else flows from this saving proclamation!
My friend, Father Bob Barron, one of the nation’s premier evangelists today, puts it like this: if a foreign visitor asks you to explain the complicated game of baseball, you would hardly start with the “infield-fly rule”! No! You would first introduce him to the beauty, rhythm, and flow of the game! Father Barron suggests he would take him instead to Wrigley Field, gradually introduce him to the majesty of our national pastime, and then patiently explain the details of the game.
The same is true of the mystery of the faith. We begin with Jesus, with the story of salvation, with prayer, liturgy, community, and the beauty of the Church. Gradually we then get to faith, doctrine, morals, practice.
All of this leads me to the rosary. October, in our Catholic calendar, is dedicated to this simple prayer. Not only is the rosary a wonderful prayer, but an effective means of evangelization.
Think about it: if we know and pray the rosary, we are familiar with the story of the life of Jesus and Mary, the enchanting mysteries that are part of “the greatest story ever told.”
And, we then know the most basic prayers of our tradition: the sign of the cross, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Glory be.
No wonder Pope Paul VI called the rosary “the school of the gospels”!
My two grandmothers loved the rosary. Lucille, my mom’s mom, was a convert to the faith. She had a tough life, working hard to raise my mom and Aunt Lois after her husband left her for the drink. Her simple faith sustained her. Yet, she always felt—wrongly—she was unlettered in her adopted Catholic faith. She would describe herself inaccurately as a “dumb Catholic.”
“Tim,” she’d tell me, “I sure don’t know much about the Church. I don’t even know how to pray. But,” she’d remark, grabbing the rosary from her bed stand (one of those “shine-in-the-dark” ones, the very one I still have and cherish), “I at least have the rosary. And, when I pray it before I go to sleep, I feel close to Our Lord, I think of all He did for me, and I almost feel I’m holding on to Mary’s hand and she’s praying with me.”
Not bad at all. That’s what I mean about the basics of our faith. Nonnie, as I lovingly called her, probably couldn’t talk that much about the Trinity or the more complex moral issues of her faith, but she sure loved Jesus, knew His life, death, and resurrection, and held fast to His Mother and His bride, the Church, as she struggled through each day.
What if all of our children knew and trusted the rosary? They’d at least comprehend the “mysteries” of the life and teaching of Jesus, and would recite by heart the great prayer of our tradition. I’d settle for that!
Last week, I had the honor of a private meeting with Pope Francis. There, on his desk, was his rosary, not as a paperweight, but, near at hand for prayer. As I left, he gave me one of his. When I asked his prayers specifically for Fred, my brother-in-law fighting cancer, and Father Fabian Lopez, one of our splendid young priests on a tough round three of cancer treatment, he gave me one for each of them.
This Holy Father realizes—no surprise!—that we’ve got a real winner in the rosary: a great prayer, an effective evangelizer.
This column originally ran on Oct. 17, 2013.